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Duke Ellington was born on April 29, 1899 in Washington, DC, USA. A true pillar of his generation, he was also a pianist, a composer of musicals and contemporary music, and finally, an American jazz bandleader. Duke Ellington formed Big Band, his orchestra, one of the most famous in the history of jazz. Among them, names to make all jazz fans swoon: Woody Herman, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Goodman, Glenn Miller, Artie Shaw, Stan Kenton or Cab Calloway. All of them considered as legends of their discipline and their instrument.
Duke Ellington grew up in a middle-class family, a big baseball fan, but was forced to stop after a bat hit in the face, his mother preferring to enroll him in piano lessons. Sports took up a lot of space during his childhood and adolescence, and it was not until 1913 that he took up the piano again and began to perform in small venues. During a trip to Philadelphia, he met the pianist Harvey Brooks, who will plunge him permanently into the world of music.
Very early on, Duke Ellington formed his first orchestra under the name of The Duke's Serenaders. Thanks to numerous trips back and forth between Washington and New York, he frequented several Manhattan clubs. During 1923, his career took a considerable boost when his orchestra entered the Kentucky Club. Duke Ellington created a new group, The Washingtonians, which from 1925 onwards appeared regularly on tour.
Besides his usual formation, Duke Ellington also forms a duo with Sonny Greer called Ellington Twins. Between them, they decided to accompany several artists such as Prince Robinson. A new association with Irving Mills will bring him many contracts with the biggest record companies in the world including Columbia and Brunswick. Later, he joined the Cotton Club, the most popular jazz cabaret in New York, which he left after a long tour through the United States in 1931. Duke Ellington's career was not a smooth one. In the 1930s, the music industry was also affected by major economic problems, especially record sales. Duke Ellington and his band survived only thanks to the radio where they were clearly unanimous.
During his long period of glory, Duke Ellington was one of the main composers of popular music in the United States. His genius will even be gratified by numerous international distinctions, with no less than 13 Grammy Awards including the one for best instrumental composition for Anatomy of a Murder and one for his entire career. He was also awarded a Pulitzer Prize citation in 1999. Many of his songs are included in the Great American Songbook.
Duke Ellington is one of the most famous African-American personalities of the 20th century. He was also a spokesman and a great supporter of the civil rights movement and the socio-political condition of African-Americans.
In 1935, he composes his first jazz concertos for many contemporary artists in order to highlight great artists, he creates several musical formations by accompanying them on the piano. Duke Ellington did not cease to rise in rank and enchained successes. He renews the jazz with compositions of 45 minutes. After a great success of its formations which welcome new talents in abundance. The continuation is less pink, the jazz is seen eclipsed by the bepop but Duke Ellington does not let himself fall and signs a new contract with Columbia. Duke Ellington won a great distinction at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1956. He also accompanied the great Ella Fitzgerald on a major European tour and performed with artists as famous as himself such as Frank Sinatra, Louis Armstrong and John Coltrane.
After an immense and successful career, Duke Ellington died on May 24, 1974 in New York.